it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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Evidence of absence

I just found out that somebody who was very special to me when I was a student passed away last month. Douglas F. Jordan, professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut, Connecticut's first State Anthropologist, a humane and funny and generous man who never remembered a student because he might have to forget an australopithecine.

He hated the term "hunter-gatherers," insisting that "appropriator" was a more accurate description of such cultures. He once circled the word "desertification" in a paper of mine and wrote "ooo! good word!" in the margin in red pen. He had a sense of humor that only about a fifth of his students laughed at (we thought he was hysterical; he was very, very, very dry), and a yellow Labrador, and wispy white flyaway hair. When I asked him to be my advisor, he turned me down because he was retiring, but he kept teaching classes as an emeritus professor. He taught me about potsherds and battleship diagrams and that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

He taught me to question my own cultural assumptions, and never to assume that the narrative I thought I was seeing was the correct one. He taught me that you don't dig a whole site, because in fifty years they'll have better tools for analysis, and if you've destroyed all the evidence with your primitive methods, it won't do anybody a damned bit of good. He taught me that middens are the best place to learn the truth about people.

I loaned him my copy of Motel of Mysteries, and in return he gave me "Body Ritual Among the Nacirema."

I hadn't talked with him since I left school. He probably thought I was smart but flighty, and didn't apply myself.

He would have been right.

Good teacher. Good man.

Tags: obituaries

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